When the residents of Savannah, Georgia, found themselves in the path of General William Tecumseh Sherman’s merciless March to the Sea toward the end of the Civil War, many of them retreated from the city to safer environs rather than risk the flames of the Union Army. Fortunately for Savannah, Sherman chose to spare the city and present it as a Christmas gift to President Lincoln in 1865.
Arguably Savannah’s most famous current resident, Paula Deen, also recently found herself under attack as the target of a lawsuit alleging racial and sexual discrimination at one of her restaurant operations. Eventually, the suit was dismissed by the judge without any award of costs or fees. But when the time came to launch her latest venture, Deen made the wise decision to retreat to friendly confines in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee.
The tiny East Tennessee mountain resort town is known as a tourist mecca; it’s home to Dollywood, outlet malls, country-music theaters and more miniature golf courses than you can shake a putter at. So the visitor demographic seems to fit Deen’s reputation as a maven of down-home Southern food like a greased glove.
Paula Deen’s Family Kitchen officially opens today in the Island in Pigeon Forge, a combination shopping mall/amusement park/food hall. (Pro user tip: Do not eat lots of rich, fried Southern food and then go on the Lil’ Ribbits ride.) PDFK is a massive attraction featuring a 4,000-square-foot Paula Deen Retail Store on the first floor, complete with an exact replica of Deen’s home kitchen, where she filmed her multiple television cooking shows. The upstairs restaurant can seat up to 300 patrons and offers panoramic views of the nearby Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Island’s Bellagio-like Show Fountain. Of course there’s a show fountain.
Meals will be served family-style, featuring what Deen promises will be “big ol’ bowls” on the table heaping full of fried chicken, collards, fried okra, corn and sweet potatoes. Deen’s signature Ooey Gooey Butter Cake followed her from Savannah to Pigeon Forge and should become the consensus dessert choice among tourists along the Redneck Riviera. Although more than half of the appetizer and entrée names on the menu contain the word “fried” or “cheese,” Deen has recently been promoting a healthier lifestyle.
She recently showed off her new 35-pounds-lighter look to Dr. Oz and espoused the concept of substituting yogurt for mayonnaise in her cooking, a trick she learned from her son, Bobby. While that may be working for Deen at home, visitors to her new restaurant can still look forward to (un)healthy helpings of butter in their meals. Something tells me they won’t mind too much….